Prologue: Bootleg Girls, the Last of Us?
“You’re not a real girl — just bootleg.”
- Redpill85, author of “How to Get Laid at an Anime Convention”
[This is a draft of the first chapter of Bootleg Wars, an ebook I am writing for my Patrons over on Patreon which will also eventually be released for sale to the public.]
Before I launch into a book-length meditation on an insult someone once caused me, based on the assertion — which, seriously, I can prove, just bear with me, folks -that understanding that insult is crucial to understanding why the world is so fucked up right now, it’s unfortunately necessary to do a bit of what I’d call “memoir work.” While I do like talking about myself, I won’t lie, it’s not always the easiest thing to do. When trying to determine what the “best” way to tell the story of one’s life is, it becomes imperative to determine where one begins such an epic tale, as well as to justify why the telling is being done in the first place. Scarcely 30 years of age, a disabled college professor — my story is hardly unique or notable. The reason I am telling it, besides of course brazen self-interest, is that I’ve somehow, through methods that remain obscure and mysterious even to me, managed to come into direct contact with a significant fraction of the individuals who are currently attempting to plunge our entire planet into the darkness of fascism. Furthermore, as the doxing website known as KiwiFarms, a disparate organization of Internet users who come together for a single purpose — to ruin lives — maintains an entire webpage based upon my exploits and dedicated to attempting to “trigger” me (or, as actual human beings would put it, activate the latent post-traumatic stress disorder from which I do indeed suffer), it is clear that some of the fascist shitheads who are destroying any hope that human civilization can ever recover consider me relevant, or at least amusing, to their evil plans. So, that brings us back to where do I start in explaining what the fuck has happened in my life, and if I may be quite presumptuous, to the entire fucking world at the same time?
To be honest, since I’ve entitled this memoir “Bootleg Wars,” a reference to my Internet screen name “Bootleg Girl,” it makes the most sense to begin with the precipitating event which earned me that nickname: my belated realization just under half a decade ago, at the tender yet still too old age of twenty-five, that I was not in fact a depressed young man but a terrified young man who looked a lot like a depressed (and I must say, dickheaded) young man. Or, to use the language of the KiwiFarms stormtroopers, I realized I was a tranny — or, as RedPill85 the infinitely ironically named (more on that later) refers to on his Twitter profile and his tweets directed towards me, a bootleg girl. A trans woman, in regular human terms.
Something that you probably don’t understand about being a transgender woman (or man, I would imagine, although I don’t have that direct experience) if you’re not one is that it’s not about, in the perverse Caitlin Jenner vocabulary, “feeling like one has always been a woman inside.” To the contrary, it’s more like feeling like you are a deeply fucked up, and deeply fucked over, dude. Chances are — although it’s not inevitable, and I don’t want to take too much credit for pre-transition sensitivity — that you realize being seen as a man has afforded you certain advantages, certain opportunities to bypass common problems, that you wouldn’t have if you were seen as a woman, or, as you may phrase it in your self-hating head, “if I were a real woman.” I would wager not one transgender woman in a thousand believes she has always known what it is like to be a woman. The more frequent feeling would be, from what I’ve heard from my friends and colleagues, to not know what it is like to be a man or a woman, to feel like something else. (Some people, of course, truly are “something else,” identifying as neither male nor female, and people who think this is weird or hard to cope with are simply going to have to get used to it.)
For me, it was a bit different: I felt like I knew what it was like to be a man, and I fucking hated it. To be a man was to not only be a menace to women, I felt, but it was to bear the responsibilities of male privilege, and while I’m certain many people denied male privilege throughout history would beg to differ, the privileges of manhood didn’t seem worth it. On top of all that, our fashion sucked — the most prized piece of male fashion I owned was a Donald J. Trump branded tie, which was actually of surprisingly high quality and design. (I attribute this, of course, absolutely entirely to the no doubt criminally underpaid designer and horrifically, inhumanly underpaid sweatshop workers who assembled the damned thing, and not to the man who I had not yet had the slightest serious inkling of a nightmarish suspicion would one day become the President of the Fucking United States of America.)
I had convinced myself that transitioning — something many of my friends had already done, in what I’m sure the less trans-sympathetic reader might categorize as a case of “transgender contagion,” an utterly baseless, bigoted eugenic theory — would be far “too much trouble.” That — “too much trouble” — was the literal language I used inside my head to explain why I should just spend the next sixty to seventy years roleplaying, like a second level wizard I realized I had put the wrong stat points into, a character I despised. I’d done it before in Dungeons & Dragons, why shouldn’t I now do it in life? What made me crack, what made me give up this senseless, helpless quest, was a video game, of all things, which is what brings us back to the intersection of utterly bizarre coincidences which seems to have put “bootleg” people like myself at the center of a world on fire, and those who despise us in one of the most powerful and dangerous positions in the entire world — the position to drive public discourse, influence who our leaders become, and most of all change who is afraid to speak up and use their voice as part of an ostensibly democratic society. RedPill85, whose name is a veritable labyrinth of irony with a minotaur at the center, maintained that not only was I not a “girl gamer” because I was a bootleg girl, an illegitimate imposter apparently intent on sleeping with unsuspecting nerd boys (the number of nerd boys who are well aware of what my birth certificate said when I was aged exactly zero and what is between my legs who clamor to hit on me in plausibly deniable ways online makes me wonder why he thinks I need to trick anyone), but there were no girl gamers. The entire phenomenon, according to RedPill85, was a crock, because real women only go near games (tabletop or video) because they want to find men to sleep with (or exploit; I’m not quite clear on whether he’s of the variety of Men’s Right’s Activist who believes that real women also universally dislike sex); no real woman likes video games. Just under a year later, of course, this idea and the toxic implications tied up with it exploded into the epic saga known as #GamerGate, which I have written a doctoral dissertation about and which I will address later in this text. The cornucopia of complications to RedPill85’s worldview — and to mine — have left a very bizarre world indeed.
What about the game, though? The game that turned me from a manly, virile 25-year old graduate student (and SJW feminist cuck, as the MRAs and Nazis would gleefully term me) into a tranny bootleg girl? It wasn’t exactly a pink, frilly game. It was The Last of Us, from Rocksteady, creators of the Uncharted (aka Tomb Raider but with a dude) series, a gritty video game where, for the bulk of the narrative, the player controls an angry, depressed, addicted man named Joel whose primary talent is shooting zombies. But, in what was for 2013 a truly subversive moment, almost exactly midway through the narrative, Joel falls and is impaled (non-fatally) upon a piece of rebar, and his companion and up-until-this-point charge and protectee Ellie is forced to go all Katniss Everdeen with a bow, and later the full range of firearms and explosives with which Joel is experienced, in order to protect him from cannibals.
There’s nothing special about the story of The Last of Us. It’s a story about a manly man protecting a young girl in the post-apocalypse, not-very-subtly inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but just a tiny bit less nihilistic. Yet, the ending upset me far more than McCarthy’s implicitly-everyone-dies-for-no-reason ending, because it made me do something that was not only against my morals, but ran against the grain of what I understood the narrative to be about.
You see, Ellie fully seizes control of the story for the part where the player controls her. Not only does the game force someone who bought the game with the expectation that they would be playing a manly-man to play as a seemingly-frail young girl (who is later revealed to be queer), but it provides a legitimate arc where a character who for perfectly reasonable — not particularly gendered — plot reasons could be expected to know little about post-apocalyptic survival learns to fight, kill, and survive on her own. By the end of the story, Ellie (she is never given a surname) has every bit the same amount of skill and, for that matter, moral grayness, as her alleged protector (who, the game’s finale reveals, never lets go of that self-image to tragically violent cost). She has killed many men, most of whom were conveniently set up by the story to deserve it, but she is a killer nonetheless. And she values humanity more than Joel, a mercenary who initially demanded cash to protect her and only later decided that protecting her was his chief priority more or less exclusively because she reminds him of his late daughter Sarah, who in the opening sequence of the game (where, again, the player is put in her role) she is murdered by police incompetently trying to stop the oncoming zombie apocalypse and Joel is able to do nothing to save her.
Joel’s prior failure as a father to Sarah leads to a truly epic, as the gamers say, failure as a surrogate father to Ellie. Ellie, you see, is infected with the fungal spores that ultimately seem to have caused the zombies to exist, and a group known as the Fireflies, who initially hired Joel to transport Ellie from the United States East Coast to a laboratory on the West, wants to experiment on her brain in order to develop a cure for the plague. Ellie consents to this experimentation, knowing that it is probable or even certain that it will lead to her death. Unable to cope with losing a surrogate daughter after having lost his genetic one, Joel goes into a fit of rage and uses his aforementioned skills at murder to dispatch all of the Fireflies, including a defenseless scientist, using the justification “you’d just come after [Ellie].” Ellie herself is, of course, helpless and under sedation during this procedure, leading to her serving as a convenient damsel in distress for the entire narrative.
I think that the summary I provide here is enough to indicate why someone concerned with the feminist criticism of media — which I am; it was a chief concern of my doctoral research at Texas A&M University, which I’ve barely touched upon because to the Nazis of the Internet a humanities degree means nothing compared to being someone with a penis or even formerly in possession of a penis who claims she is a woman — would find the game’s narrative to be a cause of serious concern. But why would it drive someone who thought she was a man, albeit an unhappy one, to abandon that gendered identification altogether? In order to answer that, we have to flip forward to another fictional scene to which I intend to repeatedly make reference in this text: the confrontation between the (very much masculine and male) Star Wars villain Kylo Ren and his father Han Solo — who both as a character and in the form of his actor, my fraternity brother-of-sorts Harrison Ford, represent a very particular but also very powerful form of manhood and maleness — in Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens, released two years into my gender transition, in 2015.
Most of you probably know the scene. We’ve already been informed by Andy Serkis’s Supreme Leader Snoke that Ren, the sometimes-masked neo-space Nazi villain Ren is in fact the son of Solo and the former apprentice of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. Ren, crossguard-shaped lightsaber in hand, is confronted while searching for rebel infiltrators aboard the planet-destroying Starkiller Base by his father, who has landed with an infiltration team who watch helplessly from above as the events that nearly every film viewer expected to see in some form from the outset of the movie occur: Han Solo walks to his death. (We all knew that Harrison Ford had been more or less begging to exit the Star Wars franchise since his previous final appearance in the series in Episode VI — Return of the Jedi.)
“Ben,” Solo calls, revealing his son’s birth name — or true name, as the narrative of The Force Awakens and the subsequent Episode VIII — The Last Jedi treat it, or as many of us in the transgender community call it, his “dead name.” A dead name, for transgender people, is the name we were known by before we began transitioning. Mine was Luke Emory Armstrong Lockhart. Kylo Ren’s was Ben Solo.
Kylo Ren hears his dead name and he kills his father. Most viewers saw this as an expected moment of tragedy. At least a few of us saw it, despite our disgust at Ren’s fictional-space-Nazi sympathies and his execution of numerous innocents throughout the film’s narrative, including the implicit-and-offscreen murder of numerous young Jedi who were children, as an expected if not fully justified act of rage against a parent trying to define one’s identity and set one’s course in life. This isn’t anything close to consensus within the trans community, but the instant that Han Solo calls his son a name he now rejects, my sympathies, if they ever were with Solo, shifted fully to his son.
My father did not want me to transition. I’m writing this with him in the room, and I love him and have no desire to impale him with a crossguard lightsaber. But that’s not the point; the point is that my frustration with my own father, in the moment that I felt such frustration with Joel in The Last of Us, was such that “all that trouble” — and it has, indeed, been a great deal of trouble, not to mention terror, abuse, and peril — of transitioning seemed less horrible than living one more day according to what my father wanted. Unlike Kylo Ren, I did not kill my father — I killed the false identity I was living under, and became who I was meant to be.
Or at least that’s my story. According to neoreactionaries and Nazis, I became a perverse, child-corrupting menace to society, and/or a sad, ugly, fat monster (I developed an eating disorder and dropped from over 200 pounds to well under 150 as a result of these taunts and the accompanying posting of my home address, attempts to contact my employer to get me fired, and so forth). Regardless of who is right, I fundamentally changed in a way that will not, and let’s be honest, cannot be reversed. It wasn’t because The Last of Us’s ending offended me on some “feminist SJW” level — I barely identify as a feminist, I simply know a lot of feminist criticism techniques — but that it pointed out a fundamental, existential threat to my agency, and perhaps eventually to my very existence. So I struck out against it. Unlike Ellie, I woke up from sedation (hey The Matrix! We’ll talk about you later) and I became… Ellie, the name that my mother had chosen for me until I unexpectedly turned out to appear to be a boy. I defied one parent to embrace the secret wish of another, and I’m sure the transphobia would have plenty to say about that. But fuck them, this story isn’t really about how I and transphobes do or don’t relate.
What I want to talk about is how transphobia, and all of the ideological garbage wrapped up in the notion of the term “bootleg,” have become central to the rise of global fascism — a movement which I contend I have solid evidence began prior to the hashtag #GamerGate, empowered itself through it, and in some squamous, monstrous Lovecraftian manner, forged itself into a true fascistic force. This is why I will mix references to Star Wars — the most clear modern story about fighting fascism, even if it is the space variety — the much-loathed (today) Harry Potter, and other trashy popular culture references into a story about how people like me became enemy number one for the new breed of Nazi that is, against everything I believed when I was young, truly and legitimately powerful.
Dealing with hate groups is nothing new for me. Skinheads were a problem in my high school. They bullied me for, ironically, being “gay” (I actually am attracted to men, but I’m fairly convinced neither I nor they had any real evidence of that in 2002) and for the ultimate unmanly act: liking Star Wars. (Nerd-dom has experienced a rapid and honestly terrifying ascendency from legitimately uncool to supreme in popular culture, in clear alignment with the rise of blockbuster fantasy and science fiction films and the creation of truly immersive and realistic video game worlds even as reality continues to dive deep into the well of utter shit.) I earned a certain level of high-school badass notoriety for a now-lost-to-the-ages web forum post where I told neo-Nazi trolls to “take their masturbatory hate fantasies” somewhere, I don’t remember exactly where, but we were 17 and I mentioned masturbation, so it was epic, or something. In college, I studied with Dr. Jody Roy, an expert on, among other things, neo-Nazis, and met Frankie Meeink, who with Dr. Roy authored the book Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead, in which he stated the famous brag he once made while he was still a Nazi: “I can make any nerd a Nazi.”
Frankie was right: you can make any nerd a Nazi. I knew that then, because as a presumed-male nerd, I felt resentment at my inability to get (or ask for) dates that I actually wanted, my continued subjection to what I perceived as unbearable social rejection and unpopularity, and I fantasized about, as in Orson Scott Card’s reprehensible novel Ender’s Game, seizing power and forcing everyone to bow before me, like Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels. What I never expected, though, and what probably saved me from any serious temptation to go down that road, was that nerds actually could get their revenge, that we could seize power and force our will on others. Laws, I assumed, were made by boring, depressing old men who chose the worst of several good options, but all the options were in the realm of reasonability. I am a child of the George W. Bush era. Torture can happen, fascism can happen, but you can’t call yourself a torturer or a fascist. Now, as ICE kicks the doors down of immigrant homes and brags about separating children from their parents, Star Wars stormtroopers look remarkably tame and the actual Nazi SA seems terrifyingly proximate.
The SA — Stormtroopers — of the NSDAP (National Socialist Worker’s Party) were called Brownshirts, and many of them legitimately were socialists — a fact that my comrades on the Left frequently like to pave over in insisting, correctly, that Hitler and the senior Nazis were very much not socialists. The SA had a certain concern for something we might call “social justice,” it just didn’t include Jews, disabled people, Roma, or women. They were the people the contemporary Democratic party call “economically disaffected” or whatever. They were also, to use a word that didn’t exist at the time but which completely exists because of Nazi (and proto-Nazi) tampering with society, nerds. The SA were overwhelmingly the people who inspired another George Lucas work, Raiders of the Lost Ark. They wanted to recover ancient mystic artifacts from colonized and oppressed people across the world and use them in their megalomaniacal crusade for world domination. They were nerd supervillains, like the Trio in Joss Whedon’s in-retrospect reprehensible Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Adolf Hitler personally helped shoot the bulk of the SA to death, of course. It’s commonly misreported that this was because they were gay, but it wasn’t. It was because their nerd socialist shit was getting to be too much for the serious work of exterminating the Jewish people and other marginalized people across Europe and the world. It was because their bullshit plans for world domination were bullshit. (So was Hitler’s of course, but there’s plenty of military strategy books you can read if you want to know about that.) So, where does that leave me? As a Jewish (by blood, and stalled conversion), transgender (and thus implicitly someone who would have born a pink triangle in the death camps), academic, I’m what the SA and their ideological replacements, the men and women of the “alt-right” or the “neoreactionary” or “red pill” (blargh, again) movements most hate. I’m also a nerd with my own inclinations toward fantasies of domination, world and otherwise. I love fantasy, escapism, and the notion of power — over people and over the world. So this opening memoir is to set up two things:
I am a victim of these heartless fucks who are in the presence of wrecking our world, and they’d hurt me worse if they could.
I am also inches away from being one of them.
Based on this, I seek to examine, starting with the word “bootleg,” the truly noxious ideology that has poisoned every aspect of our contemporary society. I want to ask if people like me are just victims or if, somehow, we can perhaps offer some special insight into exactly how this ideology that seems so based on hating us has become so powerful. Are we, perhaps, the last of us — whoever us is?
Eleanor Amaranth Lockhart is a disabled college professor on unpaid leave. Her Patreon supports eking out an existence in a world filled with far too many Nazis, and pledging will also grant you access to further updates and eventually a full copy of Bootleg Wars.One time donations to her Ko-Fi are also deeply appreciated and helpful.